Farah Pahlavi, the former Queen of Iran. The only Empress (Shahbanu) of modern Iran
Farah Pahlavi (Farah Diba; Persian: فرح دیبا Faraḥ Dība, Azerbaijani: فرح پهلوی) is the former Queen and Empress of Iran. She is the widow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, and only Empress (Shahbanu) of modern Iran. She was Queen consort of Iran from 1959 until 1967 and Empress consort from 1967 until exile in 1979.
Though the titles and distinctions of the Iranian Imperial Family were abolished by the Islamic government, she is sometimes styled Empress or Shahbanu, out of courtesy, by the foreign media as well as by supporters of the monarchy. It must also however be noted that some countries such as the United States of America, Denmark, Spain and Germany still address the former Empress as Her Imperial Majesty The Shahbanu of Iran in official documents, for example Royal wedding guest lists.
Empress Farah Pahlavi began her education at Tehran’s Italian School, then moved to the French Jeanne d'Arc School and later to the Lycee Razi. She was an accomplished athlete in her youth and became captain of her school's basketball team. Upon finishing her studies at the Lycee Razi, she pursued an interest in architecture at the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris, where she was a student of Albert Besson.
Many Iranian students who were studying abroad at this time were dependent on State sponsorship in order to do so. Therefore when the Shah, as head of state, made official visits to foreign countries, he would frequently meet with a selection of local Iranian students. It was during such a meeting in 1959 at the Iranian Embassy in Paris that Farah Diba was first presented to Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
After returning to Tehran in the summer of 1959, the Shah and Farah Diba began a carefully choreographed courtship, orchestrated in part by the Shah’s daughter Princess Shahnaz. The couple announced their engagement on 23 November 1959.
Farah Diba married His Imperial Majesty Shah Mohammed Reza on 21 December 1959, aged 21. The young Queen of Iran (as she was styled at the time) was the object of much curiosity and her wedding garnered worldwide press attention. After the pomp and celebrations associated with the Royal wedding were completed, the success of this union became contingent upon the Queen’s ability to produce a male heir. Although he had been married twice before, the Shah’s previous marriages had given him only a daughter, who under agnatic primogeniture could not inherit the throne. The pressure for the young Queen was acute. The Shah himself was deeply anxious to have a male heir as were the members of his government. It was, furthermore, no secret that the dissolution of the Shah’s previous marriage to Queen Soraya had been due to her infertility.
The long-awaited heir, Reza Pahlavi, was born on 30 October 1960. Together the couple would go on to have four children.
The exact role which the new Queen would play if any, in public or government affairs, was uncertain. Within the Imperial Household, her public function was secondary to the far more pressing matter of assuring the succession. However, after the birth of the Crown Prince, the new Queen was free to devote more of her time to other activities and official pursuits.
Not unlike many other Royal consorts, the young Queen initially limited herself to a ceremonial role. She spent much of her time attending the openings of various education and health-care institutions, without venturing too deeply into issues of controversy. However, as time progressed, this position changed. The Queen became much more actively involved in government affairs where it concerned issues and causes that interested her. She used her proximity and influence with her husband, the Shah, to secure funding and focus attention on causes, particularly in the areas of women's rights and cultural development.
Eventually,the Queen came to preside over a staff of 40 workers who handled various requests for assistance on a range of issues. She became one of the most highly visible figures in the Imperial Government and the patron of 24 educational, health and cultural organizations. Her humanitarian role earned her immense popularity for a time, particularly in the early 1970s. During this period, she travelled a great deal within Iran, visiting some of the remotest parts of the country and meeting with the local citizens.
The Imperial Government in Tehran was not unaware of her popularity. Her significance was exemplified by her part in the 1967 Coronation Ceremonies, where she was crowned as the first Shahbanu, or Empress, of modern Iran. It was again confirmed when the Shah named her as the official Empress Regent should he die or be incapacitated before the Crown Prince’s 21st birthday. The naming of a woman as Regent was highly unusual for a Middle-Eastern Monarchy.
In Iran by early 1978, a number of factors contributed to the internal dissatisfaction with the Imperial Government becoming more pronounced.
Discontent within the country continued to escalate and later in the year led to demonstrations against the monarchy. The Empress could not help but be aware of the disturbances and records in her memoirs that during this time ‘there was an increasingly palpable sense of unease’. Under these circumstances most of the Empress’ official activities were cancelled due to concerns for her safety.
As the year came to a close, the political situation deteriorated further. Riots and unrest grew more frequent, culminating in January 1979. The government enacted martial law in most major Iranian cities and the country was on the verge of an open revolution.
It was at this time, in response to the violent protests, that the Shah and Empress Farah determined (or were obliged by the circumstances) to leave the country. Both the Shah and Shahbanu departed Iran via aircraft on 16 January 1979.
The question of where the Shah and Empress would go upon leaving Iran was the subject of some debate, even among the monarch and his advisers. During his reign, the Shah had maintained close relations with Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat and the Empress had developed a close friendship with the President’s wife, Jehan Al Sadat. The Egyptian President extended an invitation to the Imperial Couple for asylum in Egypt and they accepted.
Due to the political situation unfolding in Iran, many governments, including those which had been on friendly terms with the Iranian Monarchy prior to the revolution, saw the Shah’s presence within their borders as a liability. Although a callous reversal, this was not entirely unfounded as the Revolutionary Government in Iran had ordered the arrest (and later death) of both the Shah and Empress Farah. The new Islamic dictatorship backed by the Muslim Brotherhood would go on to vehemently demand their extradition a number of times but the extent to which it would act in pressuring foreign powers for the deposed monarch's return (and presumably that of the Empress) was at that time unknown. Regardless, the predicament was complex.
The Shah and Empress were far from unaware of this complexity and cognizant of the potential danger which their presence exposed their host. In response, the Imperial Couple left Egypt, beginning a fourteen-month long search for permanent asylum and a journey which took them through many different countries. After Egypt, they first traveled to Morocco, where they were briefly the guests of King Hassan II.
After leaving Morocco, the Shah and Empress were granted temporary refuge in the Bahamas and given use of a small beach property located on Paradise Island. Ironically, Empress Farah recalls the time spent at this pleasantly named location as some of the ‘darkest days in her life’. After their Bahaman visas expired and were not renewed, they made an appeal to Mexico, which was granted, and rented a villa in Cuernavaca near Mexico City.
After the Shah’s death, the exiled Empress remained in Egypt for nearly two years. President Sadat gave her and her family use of Koubbeh Palace in Cairo. A few months after President Sadat’s assassination in October 1981, the Empress and her family left Egypt. President Ronald Reagan informed the Empress that she was welcome in the United States.
She first settled in Williamstown, Massachusetts but later bought a home in Greenwich, Connecticut. After the death of her daughter Princess Leila in 2001, she purchased a smaller home in Potomac, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., to be closer to her son and grandchildren. Empress Farah now divides her time between Washington D.C and Paris. The Empress currently has three grandchildren (granddaughters) through her son Reza and his wife Yasmine.
Etichete: Farah Pahlavi